Michael sighed. His contempt for his sister, Two Ton Teela, was only exceeded by her weight. "Yes, Lorry?"
"I can't get Pac-Man to run on your Amiga!"
Michael snapped to alertness. "YOU were using MY Amiga?!?" He rushed to the scene.
Sure enough, his room looked like a disaster area — not that it had been all that clean before. Three-and-a-half inch disks lay scattered about outside their envelopes. One was jammed upside-down into the the disk drive, against which the drive motor spun madly. He would be lucky if Pac Man would ever run again.
"You RUINED my Pac Man disk, Lorry!"
"Aw, c'mon, Michael, it's not that —"
"You have ABSOLUTELY no idea what you're doing, let alone any right to be in my room in the first place! Haven't you ever heard of private property?!"
Laurie nearly formulated a reply, when the earth shook violently beneath their feet. Earthquake. California was full of them; but this one looked like it was going to be a biggie. Michael and his sister both rushed for the doorway. Michael made it there first, but Two Ton Teela bumped him out of the way and got stuck in the doorway herself. Michael could just barely see a big chunk of the ceiling crumbling down and smashing his precious Amiga 1000 to little bitty bits.
He was about to scream, but the sudden darkening of daylight coming in from the outside stifled him. This wasn't just an earthquake: something supersonic or just very very loud was passing low overhead.
He rushed to the window of an adjoining room and peered up. The underbelly of a tremendous, colorful, humanoid robot thundered across his field of view. He could see neither the front nor the rear of the brigtly colored monster. It had to be a hundred meters long or more. How anything that heavy could fly by without vertical thrust was beyond his —
And then he noticed it. Etched in the center of the robot's groin stood an encircled lightning bolt with a pile driver for a foot, shown stepping on a helpless stick figure. That was their symbol, all right. M.A.C.R.O.N. had reached the west coast at last.
Michael buried his head in his hands. This was almost as bad as . . . as bad as . . . being invaded by the Soviet Union, yeah, that was it. MACRON would leave nothing standing in their wake. Only a god could save this town, this state, from their iron grip now. . . .
Precisely the same thought rushed through the mind of Roger M. Wilcox, five miles away, when he noticed the humanoid air dreadnought. He could hardly help but notice it, actually; it interrupted him while he was reading a reprint of an old X-Men comic that had Havok in it. Since all of his windows were covered with screens, he rushed to his front door, ducked out across his front porch, and gazed skyard. The hundred-meter-long behemoth passed over his head exactly the way it had for Michael, hovering slowly across the sky in exactly the same manner that bricks don't.
Roger brushed aside his thoughts of, "All right, we've been invaded!" as the cold reality of the situation struck him. Conventional missiles probably couldn't even puncture it. He silenly mouthed the words, "Oh dear." That M.A.C.R.O.N. dared to flex its muscles so overtly over the Los Angeles area meant that they were now too big to be stopped by any existing defense institution; the police, or the army, or the air force, or anybody.
Roger watched the black monolith hover onward and shrink until it was merely a black dot in the distance. He stared at the dot until it vanished, then kept staring for a long, long time afterward. He silenly prayed that the few disjunct superheroes in the city might be able to do something before it was too late.
"Roger," a feminine voice approached him from behind. "It's gone now." She put a hand on his shoulder. "What are you staring at?"
Roger put his hand on hers, and swallowed to get his voice back in gear. "Its wake, Ellena. Its wake. It's gonna carve a pretty big path of destruction though L.A. pretty soon, you can rest assured of that. I never thought they'd make it this far."
"Huh, who? What are you talking about?"
"M.A.C.R.O.N.. That circled lightning bolt with the pile driver on the end, squishing that guy printed on the airship's groin; that's M.A.C.R.O.N.'s symbol."
Ellena backed away. "Oh . . . dear. . . ."
"That's what I said, too."
They escorted each other solemnly back inside. Everybody in California would need all the help they could get to bag that metal beast.
"For what it's worth," Roger said, "I think I'll go back in the garage and finish that free energy collector I've been working on."
Ellena put a loving hand on his chest. "I would think," she soothed, "That since these might be our last days together, we should get as much out of them as we can." Her brown eyes searched his baby-blues and she wiggled her eyebrows.
Roger pointed to the garage. "Same principles. You know what kind of energy I work with." And with that, he left.
"Aw shucks," Ellena cursed, snapping her fingers.
Theirs was once a two-car garage, but there wasn't enough free floor space in it now to park a moped. It was crammed. Piles of cotton and steel wool lay heaped on various folding tables. A few work benches were littered with thin metal pipes and empty water bottles; other benches held bails of electrical wire and discarded transformer parts. One small shelf had an electric motor on it whose wires attached to two large cotton-and-steel pads. The motor wasn't moving.
"Oh yeah," Roger reminded himself, "I'll have to change the pads on that some day."
And in the heart of this conglomeration, on its own folding altar, stood the free energy collector he'd been working on.
It didn't look much like any monstrously powerful high-tech gizmo. It was merely an off-white plastic plate about two feet across, with a single on-off switch on its underside and several thin, black concentric rings painted on top. It looked rather like a thick white plastic archery target.
Roger took out a giant ziplock bag filled with a layer of cotton on one side and steel wool on the other. An orgone accumulator pad. He laid the foot-square pad steel-side-down on the target, then picked up an identical pad and inserted it below the white plate steel-side-up.
"Nah," he shook his head, "I've tried that before. It's never worked no matter how new the pads were or how many of them I heaped on. Maybe if I directed the flow in one side and out the other."
So saying, he lifted the white plastic disc and flipped the lower pad steel-side-down, so it was facing the same way as the top one.
"Hmmm, funny, I'd think that I'd have tried this combination before, too, seeing as it's so obvious. It doesn't look like it'll make a good antenna, though."
Nevertheless, he flipped the underside switch and stood back. There was a very faint hum. He backed up to the wall and switched off the lights. In the darkness of the closed garage, he made out a faint yellow aura around the target. It seemed to fluctuate and undulate like an aurora or a Kirlian photograph.
"Nope," he commented, switching on the lights, "Nothing new. I can't get a strong reception out of any of these pads."
Maybe he needed more of them. Perhaps he was thinking in the wrong scale; perhaps a room-sized outlay of tons of steel and cotton might do the trick, like the multi-layered accumulator boxes Wilhelm Reich used to build for his Oranur experiments. With this in mind, he picked the target up off its precipice, stuck it under his left arm, and headed for the door.
That was when he noticed that he'd forgotten to turn the target off.
The plastic platform up against his left side softly glowed and hummed. Visibly glowed and hummed. He actually saw the yellow halo with the lights on. And it extended past the bounds of the three-foot collector and outlined his entire body.
He stood motionless for a long time. It took him over a minute just to get the courage to start to figure out why it suddenly worked so well. Pads, in whatever combinations, worked mildly well as antennas; but his own living body worked a lot more efficiently. A hundred and sixty pounds of living flesh made the best channel into the cosmic ocean he'd yet seen.
"It's," he began, "It's . . . so obvious. I should've thought of it. I should have. My body as an accumulator. That's what it does in the first place!" He chuckled, on the verge of bursting with laughter. "It's been right there all the time, and I couldn't see it because I was too close to it!"
He stepped slowly outside, shaking with elation from both his discovery and the yellow energy now tingling through him. The side effects of the cosmic battery, the strong aurora and the hum, were there, but the real test would be if he could redirect that stored up energy. He could feel the channels inside of him and where the energy was going: in through the top of his head, down the length of his body, out through his feet, and back up over his surface until it reached the disk, more energy flowing into the collector with each passing breath. If he was the energy's antenna, then he should be able to change the direction the energy flowed in and get it to come of the disk where he wanted it to.
He tried holding his breath. That only slowed the energy's progress somewhat. He exhaled, felt the surge go into target again, and then inhaled. Cosmic energy flowed into the disk even more slowly while he inhaled, but it still went in. The thing seemed almost to be a leech, draining the energy that should have gone into his body and storing it like a sponge. Nothing he did seemed to stop or reverse its draw on him.
It took over an hour for the free energy collector to satiate itself and stop sucking. Roger didn't let go of it once during that time, having decided not to break off unless he was about to pass out. Ellena hadn't come out back at all during that time, thank goodness; this was his secret project, and if she actually saw it working it might wreck everything. Now that the target was fully loaded, perhaps he could get the energy to come back out of it. He inhaled deeply.
Rings the same off-white as the collector's concentric circles ebbed over his body, popping as quietly as soap bubbles. He felt a little rush up through his feet and out the top of his head, but not much. He exhaled again and everything the battery'd lost rushed right back in.
Hmmph. That didn't quite work. He needed to be a little more specific; he had to tell the stored energy where to go, somehow. He looked out toward the western horizon, toward the Pacific ocean, and said, "Go." He told the energy to go, that was all. To leave.
It didn't leave. Not exactly, anyway; but those burbling circles did return to his body. Not relenting, he focused his attention on an arbitrary point about two hundred feet in front of him and forty feet off the ground, and pushed. "Forward," he whispered, then louder: "Forward."
The circles bunched up on his posterior and bowed up slightly. It was working. "Forward," he insisted.
His head lurched forward of its own accord as the energy leapt from his body into the air. It traced a sizzling yellow arc in the general direction of where he'd aimed, and at last thundered into a two-meter-wide icosahedron that glowed with a jumble of white and yellow circles.
He put his right fist contentedly to his hip and stared at the disk as if to say, "How about that."
"How about that," he said. "With a battery like this by my side, I'm a two-way cosmic energy antenna. Maybe if I made it smaller, say only a foot in diameter, and mounted it to my clothi—"
An idea struck him with the force of a lightning bolt. The image of the X-men's Havok, replete with black leotards, plastic head bands, and white-and-yellow target-shaped emblem filled his thoughts.
"And if I mount it to the front of my clothing, and my clothing happens to be black tights with a goofy-looking mask, I'll be the spitting image of Alex Summers!"
He glanced back at the place in the sky where he'd made the fireball, then back at his abode within which he and Ellena dwelt. He couldn't afford to let her find out about this; he had to do what had to be done. "Look out, M.A.C.R.O.N.," he challenged the sky, "'Cause here comes HAVOK!"
Michael stalked solemnly into his kitchen, the shattering image of that MACRON airship still etching at his mind. The Radio Shack Model 100 tucked under his right arm didn't exactly help things. Its keyboard was beginning to show its age; now, whenever he pushed the D key once, four "D"s would appear on the screen, because the key contacts bounced so badly. Perhaps running something in the microwave oven might ease his grief. He closed the oven door and turned it on.
Not only did he forget to put anything in the microwave, there wasn't even a cup of water in there to begin with. The owner's manual had warned against that.
Instantly there came a loud explosion from within the countertop oven. Michael gave a start and leapt back in alarm. Unfortunately, in his panic, he failed to notice that he was still right in front of it. The contraption buzzed and hummed, a blinding white light sprayed out from inside it, the sound got louder until it resembled a heavenly choir, and just at the last instant before the door exploded open and all the radiation poured forward, Michael feebly intervened his Model 100 between the oven and himself.
Michael could see, hear, feel, taste, and smell nothing for the next few seconds — or years, he couldn't be sure. The only thing his senses registered was a feeling of being overwhelmed, of whirring with some kind of new energy. Then, at last, he opened his eyes. The defunct microwave oven was jostling up and down on the counter and suddenly yanked its own cord from the wall socket and hurled itself toward him.
Michael gave an involuntary yelp and tried to shield himself with his Model 100. When he noticed that all that remained of the Model 100 was a heap of melted plastic and wire on the ground, he shielded himself with his arms instead. The microwave oven came within a foot of him, crashed into a shimmering barrier, and fell harmlessly to the floor.
As he uncrossed his arms from in front of his face, Michael realized what had happened. He also realized that the barrier was coming from himself; it encapsulated his body at about a half-meter distance. He reached out a tentative hand to touch the shimmering curtain, and the barrier bulged away to give his hand room to move around. Cautiously, he stepped forward and to the left, and the scintillating bubble tracked his movement. He jumped a short distance into the air, and the force-wall followed him.
"Well, what do you know?" he mumbled. He had a barrier that cushioned him from the outside world. Despite the fact that this forcefield had just saved his bacon, he kind of wished it would go away.
And so, it did go away. Michael had to blink and rub his eyes to be sure it had gone.
He didn't have much time to think it over, though. There was a rumbling from a nearby kitchen drawer, accompanied by a muffled clatter. Michael gasped; he knew what was in that drawer. An instant later, the drawer flew open and over a hundred pieces of stainless steel flatware hurled themselves across the room at him.
He almost didn't bring his personal barrier back up in time.
"Michael!" Laurie's distant voice followed the din of clattering metal. "Are you playing with the silverware again?!"
As a matter of fact, he was playing with the silverware. Of course, if it had been real silver he wouldn't have been able to do anything to it, but since it was silver-plated steel he was having a wonderful time attracting select pieces of it to himself and bouncing it off his deflector shield. Yes, he could actually select which things he wanted to magnetically attract and which things he didn't. He noticed, though, that he seemed to be getting pretty tired. He was wearing out far faster than he should have been. He stopped magnetizing the tableware, but he still grew weary. When he shut off his forcefield, though, he started to recover almost instantly. I'll have to remember that, he thought.
He could switch a magnetic force field around himself on and off. He could not only send out magnetic fields but emit them in a tight beam. Who knew what the limits of these new magnetic abilities were?! And if he could create and control magnetism, then it served to reason that he could produce electrical effects as well.
It took only a snap of his fingers to confirm it. The blue spark that jumped from his thumb to his forefinger could have jolted an elephant. With a little practice, he figured, he might be able to fire zaps all the way across a room. Or at specific targets. Or at agents of M.A.C.R.O.N.. If it would take a god to stop M.A.C.R.O.N. from taking over Los Angeles or even all of California, then he'd be that god. A god of electricity and magnetism. A god with a name taken from the very model 100 which shielded him from the exploding oven's microwaves and gave him his new powers:
Keybounce, the Electromagnetic God!
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